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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok dies

PHNOM PENH, July 21 (Reuters) - Former Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok, considered to be one of Pol Pot's most ruthless henchmen, died on Friday in a military hospital in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, his doctors and lawyer said.

The one-legged 82-year-old, who would have been a key defendant at the long-awaited "Killing Fields" genocide trial, had been hospitalised with breathing problems since last month and lapsed into a coma a week ago.

"Ta Mok passed away this morning. He was an old man and died of natural causes, given his poor health and respiratory problems," military doctor Tuoth Nara told Reuters.

Around 1.7 million people are thought to have died under Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist regime, which seized power in the jungle-clad southeast Asian nation in 1975. They were ousted by invading Vietnamese troops in 1979.

Many of the Khmer Rouge's victims were tortured and executed. Others died of starvation, disease or overwork as the guerrilla movement's "Year Zero" dream of creating an agrarian utopia descended into the nightmare of the "Killing Fields".

None of the Khmer Rouge leaders ever faced justice for the atrocities, one the darkest chapters of the 20th century, although a special Cambodian-U.N. court has just started work and is expected to be up and running in full next year.

Pol Pot died in 1998, while others such as "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea and former foreign minister Ieng Sary remain free.
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